Posts Tagged ‘New York City in 1938; New York in the 1930s’

The Thanksgiving ragamuffins of old New York

November 23, 2015

It’s one of the strangest holiday traditions in late 19th and early 20th century New York City.

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On Thanksgiving day, kids (and often adults as well) used to dress up in costume (cowboys, pirates, and princesses were big) or in their most threadbare clothes and go door to door in the neighborhood, asking, anything for Thanksgiving?

How the tradition started isn’t all that clear. Though New Yorkers had been celebrating Thanksgiving as an official holiday since 1817, it was only nationalized in 1864.

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Somehow, a day to feast on turkey (and later watch football games) became associated with a practice that was part Mardi Gras, part modern-day Halloween.

These ragamuffins, as the kids were called, charmed (and sometimes irritated) New Yorkers; they begged for nickels and pennies and played jokes.

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In some areas, these “masqueraders” even won prizes for the best getup.

“In the old days,” a policeman recalled in a New York Times article from 1930, “the Hudson Dusters, and the Rangers and the Blue Shirts used to get all dressed up and their girls did, too, and they’d have prizes for the best costume and they’d come uptown for the parade, with horns and bells. And they’d get free drinks in the saloons.”

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Of course, this old-school tradition couldn’t last. In the 1930s, the schools superintendent discouraged the tradition. Soon, only kids who lived in neighborhoods where the “subway lines end,” as the Times put it, continued to dress up, beg, and play pranks.

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As another policeman the Times spoke to in 1947 remarked, “I remember the fun we had when we used to go out all dressed up for Thanksgiving and the people dropped red pennies out the window.” (Red because they were heated on the stove, intended to burn little kid hands.)

“But they don’t have any real fun like that anymore,” he added.

[Photos: LOC; Brooklyn Daily Eagle; NYPL Digital Collection; NYPL Digital Collection; LOC]

Sixth Avenue and 28th Street: 1938 vs. 2010

October 13, 2010

“Ride on the Open Air Elevated” commands the side of this Sixth Avenue El station—an attempt to lure New Yorkers away from the IND underground.

Berenice Abbott took this photo in November 1938. The 28th Street station had already closed and was slated for demolition, notes Changing New York, as was the entire Sixth Avenue elevated line . . . and eventually all the els across the city.

Here’s the same view up Sixth Avenue today. This stretch, center of the shrinking flower district, is open and appears wider and brighter.

Nothing from the 1938 photo looks similar, except the decorative border around the building on the left that’s now a McDonald’s.

Could it be the same building with the top floors sheared off? Possibly; back then, this McDonald’s was a Child’s restaurant.